Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Seeing the Unseen

Feast of Pentecost
9 June 2019
10.30 Eucharist
Revd Nicholas Mercer

A few weeks ago, I was watching a television programme about the Victorians.

The programme was looking at scientific advances through the Victorian era and it related the story of a German physicist called Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen

Roentgen was testing cathode rays and seeing whether they could pass through glass

When he was conducting the experiment, he noticed an unexplained glow coming from a chemically coated screen nearby

He called this an x-ray because he didn’t know what the rays were.

However he did learn that x-rays could penetrate human flesh enabling him to photograph the skeleton

The story goes that he persuaded his wife to put her hand under the rays and to have her hand photographed

When the photograph was shown to his wife, she proclaimed “I have seen my own death”

This ability to see what /before/ could not be seen before has probably impacted all our lives as we daily benefit from scientific advances such as X rays, MRI and CT scans

Today we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost.

We have heard the story of the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples in Jerusalem

A mighty wind/ tongues of fire resting on the heads of the disciples/ and the ability to speak in tongues

All this brings about a radical transformation:

It is at this point that the disciples become apostles

  • They go from being those who have been taught by Christ- disciples (disco-to learn)
  • To those who have seen sent out – apostles (ἀπόστολος/apóstolos, ‘one who is sent away’)

The Holy Spirit transforms them from men of learning to men of action

But not only were they sent out into the world

But they were “able to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability”

It is a truly remarkable story which lies at the heart of all our Christian lives and ministry

There are only 199 days left until Christmas

That is not to help you with your shopping but to remind us that that/at Christmas/ we will, once again, hear the prologue from John’s Gospel, where the story of Christ, as the logos, is retold

“In the beginning was the word and the word was made flesh

 Without wishing to pre-empt Trinity Sunday, if word existed at the beginning, it must therefore follow, logically, that the Holy Spirit also co-existed

Indeed the very first chapter of the Book of Genesis states that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters”.

The next chapter goes on and says

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being”. (Genesis 2:7)

Through creation, through our baptism, we are all bearers of the Holy Spirit but it is so easy to forget.

I want this morning to do something rather different than just listen to me

I have given you all a Mint Imperial and I would now ask you to put the sweet in your mouth and suck on it

Breathe in and breathe out as if God breathed into your nostrils the breath of life(pause)

Rather like the x ray, we are now able to see what was once hidden

How does that make you feel?

Immediately after Easter, we read the account of Jesus appearing to his disciples in the locked room. Let me just remind you of what we read

“Then said Jesus to [his disciples], Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:Whosoever sins ye remit, they are remitted; and whosoever sins ye retain, they are retained”. (John 20:21-23)

Now I would like you to say to your neighbour

  • Receive the Holy Spirit
  • Peace be with you

Like the disciples at Pentecost, we are all Spirit Bearers

We too have received the Holy Spirit and it is, potentially, transformational to us as well as them

But three things, in particular stand out from the story of Pentecost

First, it is a gift to all God’s people

When the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit

This gift is not conferred on just Bishop’s, clergy, office holders in the Church, but on all God’s people

This is young and old, black and white, rich and poor, refugee, asylum seeker anyone you can imagine

We are all touched equally – and given this equality

Think how that might affect your relationships? Your politics? How you should treat your fellow men and women?

Secondly, receipt of the Holy Spirit confers the gift of diversity

As we heard, the tongues of fire are cloven or divided and they are delivered to each individual directly

Not only does the Holy Spirit make us all one, but it makes us all different

And these different manifestations of the Spirit are set out in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians

Wisdom, understanding, courage, fortitude, knowledge and piety

As St Paul says

“All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines”.

Let us think of our own parish and how different gifts of the Spirit manifest themselves in our brothers and sisters?

And finally, the arrival of the Holy Spirit confers the gift of unity

As bearers of the Holy Spirit, not only are we all equal in the eyes of God but the Holy Spirit brings about unity at the same time

The Holy Spirit makes the many to be “one Body in Christ”

As bearers of the Holy Spirit, we too at Bolton Priory are also “One Body”

One Body symbolised by the Host as the Body of Christ

But there is one final detail which is, perhaps, harder to explain

The passage we have heard this morning also makes the point that “everyone understood one another as if they were speaking in their own language”

Parthians, Medes, Elahmites, Mesopotamia, Cappodocia, Pontus and Asia

This is truly remarkable but leaves us somewhat perplexed?

There is no universal language and even those speaking in tongues today are not understood by those who are in earshot 

However, I think it means something different. The Theologian Kortright Davies said

“Although the Gospel remains the same from place to place, the means by which the Gospel is understood and articulated will differ considerably through circumstances no less valid and no less authentic”

There is no Christianity that lacks a local accent

The remarkable thing about Bolton Priory is the language of the prayer book,

Our local language, is still understood well beyond the parish boundaries, indeed, across the Globe

Canadians, Americans, South Americans, Indians, Africans, Australasians

And so returning to the beginning of the sermon

The x-ray gave us the power to see what otherwise might have remained hidden

The Holy Spirit allows to do something remarkably similar

It allows us to see the breath of God in each and every one of our lives

Our sacred nature, our equality, our diversity and our unity

The Holy Spirit also allows us to speak in tongues that are understood across the world

and move from being disciples to apostles

Above all, rather like Rontgen’s wife, it allows us to see our own death

Not a physical death that she could see, but the conquering of death and the promise of everlasting life